Game on: High school rugby sanctioned once again in Nova Scotia

The Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation will once again be sanctioning high school rugby after approving measures aimed at reducing injuries.

The federation’s board voted to reinstate rugby at a daylong meeting Friday, said executive director Stephen Gallant.

“There are no guarantees for anything, but certainly we have worked with Rugby Nova Scotia since May to find how we can make the game as safe as we can,” he said Monday. “We’re pleased that rugby has returned and we believe it’s in a much better place.”

Among the changes, students will be required to take a safe-tackling seminar before they hit the field. Health professionals must be on site to evaluate players after a potential injury.

Gallant said players used to compete in about 16 games over a seven-week period. That number will be capped at 12.

Geno Carew, president of Rugby Nova Scotia, says his organization met several times over the past few months with representatives from the Department of Education and the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation. (CBC)

Players must also wait until Grade 10 to play in high school.

“[The] concern was the Grade 9 students, who are very small and young, playing against Grade 12s who are mature adults,” Gallant said.

The NSSAF abruptly pulled its support last May midway through the rugby season after determining there were safety concerns and a high rate of injuries. The decision prompted a huge outcry from athletes, coaches and parents.

Within a day, the provincial education minister intervened and ordered that the season carry on, but rugby was no longer sanctioned. Rugby Nova Scotia became responsible for overseeing the school program.

Changes being made

Geno Carew, the organization’s president, said meetings over the summer months with the athletic federation helped clarifiy what the safety concerns were and ensured steps were taken to address them.

He said players won’t notice many changes on the field, but the area they target in a tackle will be slightly lower. Previously, it was mid-chest and now it will be around the waist.

It’s a new rule that will apply to all youth rugby programs.

Rugby players at Charles P. Allen High School in Bedford, N.S. (Submitted by Claire Avery)

“Chances are if you are making a mistake, if you’re going to hit a little higher, you’re going to hit mid-chest, mid-body and not into the shoulder, head and neck area. [We’re] just trying to eliminate as much risk as we can,” he said.

Carew said Rugby Nova Scotia also plans to host more pre-season training clinics than in past years to ensure players and coaches are familliar with proper techniques and concussion risks.

Gallant said the federation sent notices to schools Monday. Rugby was going to carry on this school year regardless of the federation’s support, Education Minister Zach Churchill said earlier this summer.

Separate from the meetings held with the federation and Rugby Nova Scotia, Churchill has also tasked a panel of sports administrators, experts and athletes with examining safety in school sports.